Pat Symonds, the Renault F1 Team's Executive Director of Engineering, talks about the team's winning strategies from 2006. Q: Pat, how do you look back over the 2006 season? Pat Symonds: To win a world title is always an honour for the people...
Pat Symonds, the Renault F1 Team's Executive Director of Engineering, talks about the team's winning strategies from 2006.
Q: Pat, how do you look back over the 2006 season?
Pat Symonds: To win a world title is always an honour for the people involved. But to do the same again the following year, with a double championship victory, is an achievement that really deserves recognition. It proves that the previous year's success was in no way lucky. These results are the consequence of a clearly-defined strategy, and unstinting work from the whole team.
Q: What is your assessment of your rivals' performances?
PS: Performance is a relative concept that includes the idea of competitiveness. When you are at the front, that's good performance, and it is clear that our rivals this year changed. In 2005, it was quite easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses of McLaren. In 2006, we were up against a team with no Achilles Heel. So we had to complete revise the way we approached our campaign. We had to be much more aggressive. Ultimately, we attacked harder, for longer.
Q: How did your approach change from 2005 to 2006?
PS: Our only rivals this year were Ferrari, and they have always enjoyed exceptional reliability. So managing our lead, or going conservative, were never an option. We had to go on the offensive. We knew that the level of performance of the Ferrari was similar to our R26 and that most of the time, the differences came from differing tyre characteristics. There was no way of knowing, before the race weekend, if we would have the upper hand. And the balance of power between Michelin and Bridgestone could change literally overnight. That meant we needed to be adaptable in our approach.
Q: In your opinion, were the cars the product of different design philosophies?
PS: I don't think so. The philosophy is always the same: maximise aerodynamic efficiency and tyre performance, make it lighter, make it stiffer... There may be different ways of achieving those objectives, but I don't think the Renault and Ferrari cars were that different. The contrasts may have been greater with the engines, as I got the impression that the maximum revs of the Ferrari were lower than ours.
Q: You have said this season was among the toughest of your career. Why?
PS: First of all, the battle on track was tough. Really tough. Our rivals didn't seem to have any weaknesses, or almost none. We had to seize every little opportunity. And it was a difficult season politically as well. It was hard to come to terms with events like the mass damper affair and Fernando's penalty in Monza.
Q: Did the banning of the mass dampers, and the Court of Appeal hearing that followed, mean the team took its eye off the ball in preparing for the races?
PS: Yes, to some extent. During a fortnight in August, I focused almost exclusively on preparing documents for the FIA hearing. Other engineers worked on the subject too, when they could have been working in different areas -- performance development, for example. The whole affair used up resources that could have been exploited elsewhere, and also brought a major performance penalty on track. We re-optimised the car for the final races, of course, but the R26 would have been a quicker car at Interlagos with the system fitted.
Q: The R26 only took one victory after Montreal. Did the removal of the TMD play a role in that?
PS: Of course. We never fully returned to the level of performance we had achieved beforehand. What's more, it was at that point that Bridgestone made some major performance gains that helped Ferrari.
Q: What was Ferrari's greatest strength?
PS: Without a shadow of a doubt, it was their qualifying pace. This didn't come from the car so much as the tyres. It sometimes led us to change our strategies for qualifying. There is no shame in saying that, at some races, Bridgestone had superior products.
Q: Did you need to take many risks to cope with the threat of Michael Schumacher?
PS: I never take risks in that sense. We took some strategic decisions, but always with the same assessment of risk: to bring us benefit if they paid off, and not to penalise us if they did not. In Imola, for example, we knew we would finish second if we didn't try something with Fernando's strategy. So we stopped him two laps earlier than planned. In the best case scenario , he would have won. In the worst case scenario, he still finished second...
Q: If you could start the season again, what mistakes would you want to avoid?
PS: I would make sure we redesigned the wheel nut mechanism before Budapest, not afterwards! And I would not have changed Fernando's front tyres in China. Those two mistakes cost us two wins. But in terms of our approach, our philosophy and how we went racing this year, I wouldn't change a thing.
Q: The team seemed to cope with the pressure though. How did you keep the motivation high?
PS: We worked very hard to keep everybody motivated. We explained the situation to them, and made sure everybody remained confident. They were already world champions, and there was no reason why they could not do it again.
Q: Finally, Fernando Alonso has now left the team. He was exceptional this year...
PS: I want to pay tribute to his contribution to our success. He is a great driver. He gave 100% to achieve the results, just as we did to give him the best possible car. I like it when things are working like that. What's more, Fernando has some exceptional abilities, particularly in terms of understanding the race. Instinctively, he knows whether he needs to looks after the tyres, whether to attack or defend. He knows what the key moments are in a race. And in the last two years, he has made almost no mistakes. In 2005, he hit the wall in Canada. In 2006, he was penalised for braking in front of a competitor. That's pretty remarkable, isn't it?